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One for the loss column

As a sportscaster-writer in 'Listen Up,' Jason Alexander strikes out again

The last time Jason Alexander tried a sitcom, it was an electronic migraine that went by the name of "Bob Patterson." It still hurts to think about it. So with his new vehicle, "Listen Up," he has nowhere to go but up. And up he goes, but only slightly -- from the sub-basement to the basement. The series, which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 4, isn't a blinding headache so much as it is a gnawing hangover -- last night "Seinfeld," today this? "Listen Up" is clearly geared to fit in the CBS Monday sitcom lineup. It has the same retro guys-and-their-wives point of view of its neighbors, "Still Standing" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." And like them, it aspires to nothing greater than conventional family bickering and bantering with a sentimental lesson tagged onto the end. It's a prime example of the mediocre writing that's making the network sitcom into the least vital TV format of the moment. In the premiere, "Listen Up" also bears an uncommon -- and unfortunate -- resemblance to the first season of "8 Simple Rules," when John Ritter was the writer-father going through Freudian conniptions as his children grew up. It's an "8 Simple Rules" double dip.

Alexander plays Tony Kleinman, a sports commentator and lifestyle writer based on Tony Kornheiser of ESPN and The Washington Post. He's beloved by his viewers and readers, but far more resistible to his family -- wife Dana (Wendy Makkena), 14-year-old daughter Megan (Daniella Monet), and 15-year-old son Mickey (Will Rothhaar). Most of the sitcom finds Tony offending his family members, particularly when he uses them as column fodder; but we occasionally follow him to the office, where he spars with his TV cohost (Malcolm-Jamal Warner). The scenes with Warner at least have a hint of gusto. Tonight's plot is ripped from the headlines -- the headlines of Sitcom Pablum Weekly, that is. Megan, it turns out, is appalled by her father, especially when he screams soccer tips to her from the sidelines. Will the two kiss and make up? You can't help but root for Megan, since Alexander's blowhard thing wears thin very quickly on this show. Ultimately, Alexander is a lot easier to take as a supporting character, when his neurotic eruptions are interspersed with the comic stylings of other characters. Taken in large doses, his obsessive intensity loses its efficacy. Tonight, when someone tells him he's "suprisingly" terrific as a TV host, we can see his screed coming a mile away.

Is "Listen Up" a victim of the "Seinfeld" curse? Nope. That curse -- said to have brought down "Bob Patterson," "Watching Ellie," and "The Michael Richards Show" -- is pure urban legend. "Listen Up" is a victim of nothing other than its own lazy lack of ambition and imagination.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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